Robots vs. agents: Travel’s experts weigh in

Robots vs. agents: Travel’s experts weigh in

There are changes afoot in the travel industry, and we don’t just mean the stylish new threads from Alaska Airlines.

New technology seems to be springing up in every direction, and the impending ‘robot takeover’ feels closer each day.

So what are the latest trends?

Well, according to Skift, there’s a huge shake-up coming to the way agents and customers book hotels.

The idea is ‘Augmented hospitality”, a tool which will affect every part of the booking process.

It will allow guests to peer into their hotel rooms prior to booking, as well as enable a more thorough exploration of the hotel.

Speaking to Skift, AccorHotels chief digital officer Maud Bailly, said of AccorHotels’ digital transformation: “We firmly believe that the perception of hotels as places for travellers only is outdated.”

“Time constraints of busy people in combination with the lack of a personal touch in online purchase and delivery do not easily allow for trust-based, local relationships.”

“This is where we see an opportunity for our 4,200+ hotels which are open 24/7 and our 250,000+ employees with unrivaled know-how to play a central role as daily service providers,” she added.

But what’s happening in Australian travel?

Speaking to Travel Weekly, House of Travel’s Barry Mayo called “technology the foundation of the business”.

“Technology is the foundation of our business: it’s how we find information, share information and communicate with each other.

“As a company, our sole focus has always been, and will continue to be, built on relationships and personal service, so for us it is essential that we ensure that our technology works to support, rather than replace those relationships.”

“We achieve this by providing our clients with direct, live access to their PTM, delivering personal expertise and service before, during and after their travel – to a standard that robotic-type technology simply can’t hope to emulate.”

“Our technology is constantly evolving, with the goal being a relentless improvement to the personalised and unrivalled service we provide to our clients,” he added.

Client focused technology seems to be the driving force of the industry, with most shops promising new developments to meet their customers’ demand.

Speaking to TW, Helloworld Business Travel National Manager Kate Cameron said the company has partnered with technology providers “who are leaders in their field”.

For Cameron, new tech is crucial helping client needs.

“We offer booking tools and mobile apps that allow travellers to make and change their travel needs on the run.”

“As technology advances we will see AI (artificial intelligence) become more common in this space – as already the tools can remember your preferences such as favourite times to fly and hotels you like to stay at.”

“Corporate booking technology is now being developed to mimic the same experiences that travellers and travel arrangers use outside of work, so the implementation and training curve is much shorter and easier for the client/consumer.”

Cameron also added that companies are at “high risk” of losing clients if they don’t focus on technology.

“Travel management company’s are at high risk of losing clients to their competitors if they don’t combine technology with a strong cultural alignment and relationship that only consultants and account managers can foster – technology will never replace the important of good old service”

MTA’s Roy Merricks agrees that technology is at the forefront of the company’s strategy, though still recognised the need for human interaction in the booking process.

“On the technology front, efficiency tools for MTAs advisors remain a priority in 2018,” said Merricks.

“Complementing our client itinerary app ‘MTA Companion’, we’re just launching a state of the art corporate online booking tool, and with ‘MTA Global Fares’ advisors can easily price an itinerary and automatically search across all MTA wholesale, retail, corporate and special fares available.

“Again, development of technology is paramount and we’re fortunate to have in-house developers.

“But through all of this, let’s not forget the need for human connection.”

“We’re biologically wired for that. Certainly, voice activated enquiries for example are a starting point just as Google is, but we know that robots can’t replace trusted advisors, and as humans I don’t believe we really want them to anyway.

“They can never build rewarding relationships with clients… and first and foremost, we’re in the relationship business after all.”

Do you have something to say on this issue? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Daisy Doctor here to share your thoughts. 

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